Album Reviews: J. Tillman & The Bird and The Bee

Vacilando Territory Blues

J. Tillman – Vacilando Territory Blues

Joshua Tillman is an undeniably talented musician. Tillman, who moonlights as the drummer for Fleet Foxes, has been releasing terrific solo albums for the last four or so years. His latest, Vacilando Territory Blues (released January 20th on Western Vinyl), does not disappoint.

In Vacilando Territory Blues, it’s easy to see the mark Tillman’s time with Fleet Foxes has left on his style. The change isn’t significant, but it’s definitely palpable, especially in the short, harmony-driven opening track “All You See”. This album seems to compliment Tillman’s work with Fleet Foxes while neither relying on or completely departing from it. A couple of the Foxes even make appearances in a few of the songs, adding to the rough, woodsy harmonies of the album.

This album seems to have found a balance in J. Tillman’s sound. Vacilando Territory Blues is more acoustically driven and simple than Minor Works (Fargo), though a little more complex than Cancer and Delerium (Yer Bird). It centers almost completely on Tillman’s subtle melodies, longing vocals and acoustic guitar. Other instruments make their appearances in various songs, but the true focus of the album seems to be on his lyrics, which are honest, sometimes ominous and more often positive than they have been in past albums.

Some songs carry the weight of growing older, addressing lessons learned from experience in “Laborless Land,” and, in “James Blues,” describes a struggle with staying in a long term relationship that began in younger days, imploring to be put “out to graze.” Some are almost unbearably sad, such as “Someone, With Child,” which describes the aftermath of a mother’s suicide from the point of view of her son. Though most of the album is on the serious side, it ends on a high note with the final two tracks. “Above All Men” gives instructions for how to lead a good life, and “Vacilando Territory” talks about a joyous feeling of brotherhood among friends.

Vacilando Territory Blues is a great album. Tillman’s soft, soothing voice will entrance you, and his words will make you stop and think about your own ideals and relationships. His work has become progressively better with each release — J. Tillman is definitely someone I will be keeping an eye on in the future.

J. Tillman will perform at The Sunset on February 15 before heading off to Europe. On this mini-tour, he’ll be performing with his brother Zach’s band, Pearly Gate Music.

The Bird and The Bee

The Bird and The Bee – Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future

L.A. pop darlings The Bird and The Bee are at it again. The duo, comprised of Greg Kurstin and Inara George has been steadily cranking out releases since 2006, often speaking of one-night-stands, broken hearts and growing dissatisfied with monotonous, loveless relationships. In their latest album, Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future (released January 27th on Blue Note), their tune seems to have changed a bit for the better.

Ray Guns manages to progress and mature from their 2007 self-titled release while still managing to remain true to their style. The music is a little more dancey at times, and the songs a little more pro-love than they have been in past releases, but the songs still demonstrate Kurstin’s skill as a musician, and allow for George’s voice to soar.

Among the love-positive songs is “Birthday.” With simple, sweet lyrics, Inara George sings about knowing your true love both literally (“Who knows the sum/The sum of all of your parts?”) and figuratively (“Who knows your limit/…your highest/…your lowest?”). There is also “Love Letter To Japan,” which describes the willingness to go anywhere and do anything to be with one’s lover. Some of the songs are more overtly sexual, such as “Polite Dance Song,” saying “I try to be as coy as I can/I want to see your naughty bit.”

Among the slightly less happy songs is “Ray Guns,” which implores for a “pretty little life” instead of the “sin and strife” that weighs down on real life. There’s also “You’re a Cad,” which is about a girl who, despite knowing better, always ends up with “a rascal and a rove, a villain and a crook.”

Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future is a really solid album. The songs are clever and cohesive, the instrumentation skillful, and Inara George’s voice as lovely as ever. The album is playful, and definitely a great listen. This is one of my favorite releases thus far in ’09.

The Bird and The Bee will be playing with Obi Best at Chop Suey on February 12th.

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